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What Conservatives want in their euro-manifesto

Wednesday, 1st October 2008

In the Freedom Zone at Party Conference, on Monday Sept 29th, I chaired a debate on the 2009 euro-manifesto, with a range of euro-candidates, plus major Party donor Stuart Wheeler.  The Candidates were John (”Give Europe some Flack”) Flack from Eastern England; Jean-Paul Floru from London (how cool would it be to send a Belgian euro-sceptic to Brussels to represent London?); Therese Coffey from the South East; Zehra Zaidi from the South West, and our own Rupert Matthews from the East Midlands.

After a short introduction, we invited comments from the floor, and debated them.  At the end, I checked that my understanding of the issues reflected the mood of the meeting, and promised that I would forward the findings to William Hague and Mark Francois. I am delighted to say that the meeting (just short of a hundred Conservatives) supported the consensus positions almost unanimously — and I learned afterwards that the only two No votes were from dissenters who wanted an even tougher line on EU issues.

To summarise briefly the views of the meeting:

EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty: The meeting overwhelmingly supported the Party’s position that if we form a government before Lisbon is fully ratified, we should hold a referendum on it, and accept the result.  If it is fully ratified by all 27 member-states, we should undertake a radical re-negotiation of our EU membership, aiming for a new relationship based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation.  These steps should be immediate.  Under no circumstances should they be labelled “2nd Term Issues”.

Common Foreign and Security Policy:  The meeting agreed that the CFSP is incompatible with national independence.  While we support ad hoc cooperation and alliances, British foreign policy should be determined in Britain, by Britain, for Britain.

Trade Policy/WTO:
  The UK’s trade policy is determined by Brussels, and is biased against the Anglo-sphere.  Protectionist decisions are frequently made to protect (for example) Italian shoe-makers or Portuguese lingerie manufacturers, which are not in Britain interests.  Trade policy should be repatriated, with more emphasis on the Anglosphere.

Costs of EU membership:  It was noted that credible estimates of the total cost of Britain’s EU membership are put at £60 billion a year. This may have been affordable in good economic times.  It is unsustainable in the face of a global financial crisis.  The Party should commit to a government White Paper on the costs and benefits of EU membership.

Common Fisheries Policy:  It was recalled that under Michael Howard’s leadership, and based on a very thorough analysis by Owen Paterson MP, the Party was committed to reasserting control over Britain’s fisheries and territorial waters, and withdrawing from the appalling CFP.  The meeting called for that policy to be explicitly reinstated.

Freedom of Information Act:  It was proposed that a measure similar the UK Freedom of Information Act should be brought forward in the EU, to end the culture of secrecy surrounding EU policy and decision-making.

Strasbourg:  The Party should have an explicit policy of a single seat in Brussels for the European parliament, eliminating the ludicrously expensive monthly commuting to Strasbourg.

No doubt other will have additional ideas, but these, surely, would be a good start, and would have the backing of Conservatives and of a broad swathe of public opinion.